Montana School Labs Waste Management

This website provides information on how to manage waste chemicals in your school labs.

Science class is one of the first places kids formally learn about our natural world. Who could forget that satisfactory 'pop' in the test tube when hydrogen molecules meet oxygen! The best learning happens in a safe and secure environment; one that includes safety gloves, safety glasses, and a tidy chemical storage cabinet.

Unfortunately, mismanagement and improper storage of hazardous chemicals in school labs has become a nationwide safety issue and is one that effects Montana public schools. They typical middle or high school science lab stocks a variety of old and outdated chemicals that may become unstable and chemical containers may deteriorate. Chemicals get shoved to the back of the storage cabinet and forgotten. Even under the best storage conditions, accidents and spills can happen, exposing school personnel and students to these potentially hazardous substances.

To ensure the safety of students and school personnel alike, it's important that Montana schools evaluate the chemicals in their science labs and remove outdated, extremely hazardous, and/or unusable compounds. By being proactive and informed, schools can plan for the costs of removal and disposal before accidents happen.

Unfortunately, the pictures in this presentation are not isolated incidents. If your stockroom or laboratory bears any resemblance to the conditions pictured in the presentation, you may have an extremely unsafe situation. You can prevent injury or death by the proactive approach of properly managing the usable chemicals, and disposing of the excess or outdated ones.

Budgeting for Disposal (the hard facts)

There's no question, removal and disposal of science lab chemicals can be expensive. King County in Washington State cleaned out over a hundred school labs, for an average cost of about $500 and as high as $80,000. Costs are variable and depend on the types and condition of the chemicals to be disposed.

Unfortunately, DEQ does not have funding at this time to help schools pay for disposal. What we can provide is information on potential hazards of chemicals in your school lab storage rooms, safety awareness, and technical assistance. We'll also link you up with people who can help with inventorying and disposal.

Conducting a thorough lab chemical inventory at your school will give you an idea of the types and condition of chemicals in storage. A good inventory will help schools plan for the cost of removing unwanted chemicals. Schools may be able to lower disposal costs by joining with other schools in their areas for group removals. In addition, conducting an inventory will provide information on whether adequate storage, handling, and purchasing procedures are in place. Please see the tab Evaluating Chemicals for recommended procedures for evaluating science lab chemicals.

Anaconda, Shelby, Kalispell, Missoula County, and Conrad have removed excess and unwanted science lab chemicals from their middle and high schools. The University of Montana (Missoula), Montana State University (Bozeman), and Montana Tech (Butte) have also done lab clean-outs. You may want to contact these schools for information on their experiences.

Evaluating Chemicals

To maintain your school lab, you need to evaluate chemicals on hand, inventory them using safety procedures, and dispose of unwanted chemicals.

Before making decisions on management of science lab chemicals, it is important for school personnel to understand what they have in stock. Conducting an inventory to determine types and quantities of lab chemicals is a good first step. Please remember, old chemicals may be unstable and some chemicals may form explosive compounds as they age. Caution must be used at all times in handling bottles and containers.

After completing an inventory, decisions can then be made on what chemicals are needed and what chemicals should be discarded. All unwanted chemicals must be disposed of properly and in accordance with Montana solid and hazardous waste regulations. For regulatory assistance, please see the Resources tab .

Once lab chemical storage areas have been inventoried and cleaned out, the areas should be properly maintained to avoid future accumulations of hazardous and unwanted chemicals. Guidelines should be developed for chemical storage, purchases, and disposal. Limiting chemical quantities and hazard levels will minimize waste, as well as providing a safe and healthy environment for students and school personnel.

Below are links to information on safely inventorying lab chemicals, a suggested inventory list of lab chemicals, and a link for detailed information about the various chemicals. For your convenience, we’ve provided the chemical list in two formats, Word document or Excel spreadsheet.

Science Lab Chemical List

Chemical Information - Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Toxic Substances Portal 


Steps for Completing an Inventory

Chemical Inventory Sheet - Excel

Several precautions should be taken prior to starting the inventory:

  • 1. Decide who will complete the survey.
    • The inventory should be completed by personnel knowledgeable about school laboratory chemicals, i.e. the science teacher.
    • School personnel who are not knowledgeable about school laboratory chemicals may, under the direct supervision of a knowledgeable person, assist with the inventory.
    • Students should not be allowed to perform or help with the physical inventory.
    • Designate other personnel to periodically check on the safety of the inventory staff.
  • 2. Designate a well-defined time to complete the inventory.
    • Schedule ample time to complete the inventory.
    • For safety, the inventory should not be conducted when students are in the area.
  • 3. Have spill cleanup materials immediately available.
    • Provide access to a telephone, eyewash, and a safety shower.
    • Have spill cleanup materials immediately available. Spill cleanup material should be compatible with the chemical spilled.
    • Emergency telephone numbers should be clearly posted near available telephones.
    • The inventory team should review the school’s Chemical Safety or Hygiene Plan, if one is available.
    • Review published safety guidelines for working around lab chemicals.  Here are some examples:

      Flinn Scientific, Inc.

      Montana Department of Labor's School Science Lab Safety Guidelines

      NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health)

      EPA - Schools Chemical Use & Management

    • Have a plan to deal with potential explosives. Will the local or state bomb squad remove potential explosives? Will a private hazardous waste removal company be hired to remove potential explosives? What agencies need to be alerted? What is the procedure for removal of potential explosives? Will the school have to close until the chemical is removed? Notify your local authority (i.e. Fire Department) that you will be doing an inventory, especially if this is the first inventory in several years.

Safety Precautions to Take During the Inventory

Safety precautions to take during the inventory:

  • 1. Work in pairs and never work alone. It is best if one team does the entire inventory. Notify other school personnel that you are conducting the inventory and have them periodically check on you to make sure everything is going well.
  • 2. Wear chemical resistant gloves, chemical splash goggles, a lab apron, and closed toed shoes.
  • 3. Enter the storage area and develop a general feel for the area. Are there obvious vapors; are broken containers present? Are the shelving units secured to the walls? How is the lighting? If the chemicals are stored above eye level, use a safety step stool or a small stepladder. Do not reach into a storage area that is above your head or one that you cannot clearly see into.
  • 4. Make sure the area is well ventilated while you are performing the inventory.
  • 5. Determine the presence of spills, defects in the shelving or its supports, corroded wires or gas lines or any other indicator of a hazard present.
  • 6. Evaluate the condition of the chemical containers. Use extreme caution when moving any container. Do not open any containers. Use extreme caution when dealing with containers with rust, cracks, degraded tops, bulges, liquid above a solid, or crystals in a liquid. Do not move containers, if you have any doubts about the condition of the chemical or container.

    Do not touch or move chemicals if they are listed as potential explosives or the container appears distorted in any manner. For example, merely touching the top of a container of picric acid or old ethers may cause serious injury.
  • 7. It is recommended that you avoid handling any unlabeled or unknown chemicals.
  • 8. Remember to look everywhere. Containers of chemicals may be behind glassware, in refrigerators, or in other cabinets in the lab. Don’t forget the bottom drawer of your desk or file cabinet.

Procedures Following the Inventory

A. Determine if any immediate cleanup response is required.

  • Are any containers open or leaking? If the chemical is not explosive, it may be transferred to another compatible container and the spill cleaned up. The cleanup materials should be disposed properly. Be sure to properly mark the contents on the new, compatible, container.
  • Does any chemical pose a significant, immediate risk? This is a difficult question to answer, particularly if potentially explosive chemicals are present. The situation should be discussed with the principal and the local fire chief. If your school has a chemical health and safety committee or a chemical hygiene/safety officer, they should be included in these discussions.

B. Determine what (if any) chemicals need to be removed and disposed. All unwanted chemicals must be disposed of properly and in accordance with Montana solid and hazardous waste regulations. DEQ or a hazardous waste disposal company can give assistance with disposal options.

  • Determine what waste chemicals must be managed and disposed as hazardous waste.
  • Consult with managers of municipal landfills and city sewers prior to disposing any unwanted chemicals via those utilities. (NOTE:  Septic systems are not city sewers, and chemical disposal via a septic system is inappropriate.)
  • Develop a detailed inventory of all unwanted chemicals that are not suitable or allowable for disposal via the municipal landfill or city sewer.
  • Using the detailed inventory, obtain cost estimates from several reputable waste disposal firms.
  • Hire an experienced waste disposal company to remove remaining unwanted chemicals.

C. Once a school lab chemical storage area has been cleaned out and inventoried, maintain the storage area to avoid future accumulations of hazardous and unwanted chemicals.

  • Develop chemical purchase guidelines that limit chemical quantities and hazard-levels.
  • Develop and maintain a chemical storage system that ensures chemicals are stored and managed properly, in well-ventilated areas.
    • Flinn Scientific, Inc. is one resource for school lab chemicals. Flinn’s catalog includes information on currently acceptable storage and management practices.


Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) encourages schools to dispose of unwanted lab chemicals.  All unwanted chemicals must be disposed of properly and in accordance with Montana solid and hazardous waste regulations.  DEQ, hazardous waste disposal companies, or consultant/remediation companies can give assistance with disposal options.

Steps to follow:

  • Determine what lab chemicals need to be removed.  This may entail conducting another inventory to determine volume, quantity, condition, age, and hazardous or solid waste status.
    • Remember - Old chemicals may be unstable and some chemicals may form explosive compounds as they age.  Caution and appropriate personal protective equipment should be used at all times when handling all lab chemicals.
    • Recommended safety procedures for conducting an inventory are located on the Montana School Lab website.
  • Consult with managers of municipal landfills and city sewers prior to disposing any unwanted chemicals via those utilities. (NOTE:  septic systems are not city sewers, and chemical disposal via a septic system is inappropriate.)
  • Obtain cost estimates for disposal from a reputable waste disposal firm.
  • Hire an experienced waste disposal company to remove unwanted chemicals. See DEQ Hazardous Waste Program’s website for a list of companies.
  • If the amount of hazardous chemicals to be disposed of is equal to or greater than 220 pounds for non-acute hazardous waste or more than 2.2 pounds for acute hazardous waste then:
    • The school must obtain an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identification number
    • Register with DEQ by submitting a completed Notification of RCRA Subtitle C Activity Form (EPA Form 8700-12) and registration fee, if applicable 
    • Contact the DEQ Hazardous Waste Section at (406) 444-5300 or visit their website at to obtain the registration fee amount.


Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)
Hazardous Waste Section

(406) 444-5300

Waste Management & Remediation Division

(406) 444-4323

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)
Safe Chemical Management in Schools

Safe Chemical Management in Schools

Montana Office of Public Instruction
(406) 444-3095

2004 Results

On August 20, 2004, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) sent a survey to over four hundred schools in Montana, requesting information on chemicals in storage for use in science lab courses. Because mismanagement and improper storage of hazardous chemicals in school labs has become a nationwide safety issue, we wanted to learn whether there is a problem in Montana schools. Our purpose was to determine the types of chemicals present in our school science labs and whether chemicals with potential hazardous characteristics were present.

DEQ thanks all the schools participating in the survey. Your response was tremendous.  Over 37% of the 406 middle and high schools we surveyed responded, reporting a total of 570 different chemicals. Our findings are summarized in a compilation report at the following link.  

Compilation report and Chemical Count

For more information on hazardous waste management, please contact DEQ's Hazardous Waste Program at (406) 444-5300 or go to the Hazardous Waste Program website. You can also click on the following link for the hazardous waste specialist assigned to your region - MT DEQ Regulatory Contacts.